Hollywood keeps trying to make dark fairy tales happen (Red Riding Hood/Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters), but after The Curse Of Sleeping Beauty, it might be time to give up. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for innocence lost. Who doesn’t love a good Christmas horror movie that transforms joy into fear? Granted, this adaptation of Sleeping Beauty is based on “Little Brier-Rose” by the Brothers Grimm, so deviousness is expected – but not to the degree Pearry Teo delivers. Disney’s whimsy long fades once Teo exposes the true horrors of a long-slumbering girl, yet this genre attempt struggles to find sinister definition, and might be droll enough to lull even the titular Beauty back to sleep.
Teo’s film opens on a desert landscape, as Thomas (Ethan Peck) walks towards a bed curtained by wavy sheets. A young woman lays dead asleep, who Thomas approaches, and leans in to kiss. At this moment, Thomas wakes up in a cold sweat, revealing it was all just a dream. That’s until he inherits his Uncle’s estate – Kaiser Gardens – whose walls permit him to finally kiss his fantasy girl (in dreamland). She promptly rises after the smooch, explaining that her actual body is hidden somewhere in Kaiser Gardens, and that Thomas’ kiss can wake her in reality. So Thomas begins looking for the comatose girl hidden somewhere in his Uncle’s creepy old mini-mansion, because that’s not weird or anything.
Well, I’ll at least award points for creativity. Teo turns a story about princes and “happily ever afters” into a wicked survival situation involving Djinns (supernatural beings). Instead of suitors trying to rescue Brier Rose (India Eisley), her eternal slumber becomes something of an urban legend, where dumb teens dare one another to search for her body. Brier Rose was surrounded by her sleeping friends and family in the words of the Brothers Grimm, but here she’s surrounded by mannequins the Djinn uses to hide bodies/maneuver unseen. Pretty neat as far as adaptations go!
Alas, this is where the compliments stop. While interesting in theory, The Curse Of Sleeping Beauty is more about hacker sequences – complete with reflected code projecting over a computer user’s face – and flip-flopping emotional ties. Thomas isn’t alone in his fight, as he’s accompanied by Linda (Natalie Hall), whose brother was killed (presumably) inside Kaiser Gardens. She’s obviously inserted as a love interest, but oddly goes from hating Thomas for being a Kaiser to caring for his studly soul at the drop of a dime. Because of an 86-minute run time, the relationship between Lina and Thomas is hashed out quickly, and without human investment – it’s a friendship forced with timing in mind.
As for the actual horror elements, Teo delivers one or two spooks as faceless creatures lurk around mazes made from storefront-window dummies. Blood must be spilled to open secret doors, and there’s a nasty Djinn who drools yuckiness, but nothing truly horrifying ever appears. Then, just when Brier Rose exposes her true intentions (never hidden) after Thomas inevitably comes to her rescue, the film cuts away before an apocalyptic payoff. It’s obvious that Teo is dealing with budgetary restraints, but as his film currently exists, a generic haunted house thriller is simply drawn-out in lieu of a short, open ending. Talk about a case of doomsday blue balls.
The Curse Of Sleeping Beauty is the kind of story I love – hopes and dreams that lead to doom and gloom. Fuck up a fairy tale and you’ve got my attention every damn time. But end your production just as the payoff is about to hit? Now that’s a cinematic sin I cannot forgive. Closure is not something I demand, yet when you drag audiences through generic genre screams to reach something bigger, you damn well better deliver something bigger. Unfortunately, Teo cuts away before that “bigger” ever occurs, and we’re left with just another mundane “thriller” about a love that’ll literally break your heart.
This is one sluggish curse that wouldn't wake even Sleeping Beauty.